A Chinese frigate did direct fire-control radar at a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer on the high seas near the Senkaku Islands in January but the act was not planned, senior Chinese military officials said recently.
Admitting for the first time to Japan’s allegation that weapons-targeting rather than monitoring radar was used, the officials, including flag officers, said an “emergency decision” had been made by the commander of the frigate.
Tensions have been riding high since September, when Japan effectively nationalized the islands, which China calls Diaoyu. Ships and planes from both sides have been antagonizing each other over the dispute ever since.
The claim that the radar incident was accidental is seen by Defense Ministry officials as a signal that China is either playing mind games or softening its stance toward Japan, which has been quick to play up Chinese activity in the area but slow to reveal its own.
The Chinese government has been critical of the allegation and described Japan’s reports on the incident as a “fabrication.” It is expected to officially maintain that stance despite the latest accounts.
With regard to an alleged violation of Japanese airspace in December near the islands, the Chinese officials admitted it was part of the military’s action plan but added they did not intend to aggravate the situation and do not intend to do so in the future.
The officials urged Japan to calm the situation by not becoming fixated on the incidents and by refraining from disclosing data to prove the radar lock took place.
“If this is true, one has to question a military system that leaves (such) authority in commanders’ hands even when they are not in a dire situation,” said Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Kawano also said he’s not unsure what the intention of China’s radar lock admission is.
According to the Chinese officials, the frigate and the Japanese destroyer were three km apart on the morning of Jan. 30 and situated around 110 to 130 km north of the Senkaku Islands. The commander of the frigate directed the fire-control radar at the destroyer based on its rules of engagement and without seeking directions from fleet command or navy headquarters.
“The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States,” a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance. Whether the commander was reprimanded remains unknown.
The officials said the airspace violation was planned by the staff section of the national Land and Sea Border Defense Committee, which acts as a liaison office for the Chinese military, the State Oceanic Administration and the fishing bureau of the Agriculture Ministry, with the aim of escalating the situation and was carried out using SOA aircraft.
The flight course and altitude were thoroughly planned by calculating the presence of Japanese radar and airborne early warning and control systems, they said.